Jewish Liturgical Music

Clergy Musical Worship Facilitator, The organ, Cantor, Presenter: Ritual music was at first only cantillation, i.e., recitative chanting, of the prose books of the Bible. Later the prayers and biblical poetry were chanted.

You should understand that not among the Israelites nor the vilest pagan temples could singers, preachers or instrument players enter into the Holy Place even to clean out the garbage. The Holy Place with its three symbols was a civil-state shrine whereas the synagogue beginning in the wilderness and the later Christian synagogue or church. The music was called noise and it was part of the hard bondage "service" to the priests during the slaughter and burning of innocent animals.

See our notes on Amos.
And how the temple was LIKE THE NATIONS and not according to God's ideal
The Synagoge
See the Organ on the Sabbath: divided Synagogues before churches.
Jewish liturgical music
the music used in the religious services of the Jews.

See The Encomiast as Babylonian-like Praise Leader
The Catholoc Precentor: The first wide-spread heresy
Catholic Liturgy

"The Bible and the Talmud record that spontaneous music making was common among the ancient Jews on all important occasions, religious and secular. Hebrew music was both instrumental and vocal. Singing was marked by responsorial, antiphonal, and refrain forms, and singing and dancing were accompanied by instruments. The first instruments mentioned in the Bible are the kinnor, evidently a lyre similar to the kithara, and the ugab, possibly a vertical flute.

Other instruments, more of ceremonial than of musical value, included the hasosra, a trumpet, and the shofar, a ram's or goat's horn, the least musical of all and the only one still in use. 

When the kingdom of Israel was established,

Jewish Liturgical Music.

"music was developed systematically. The part played by music in the Temple was essential and highly developed. New instruments were the nevel, a harp; the halil, possibly a double oboe; the asor, a 10-stringed instrument probably like a psaltery; and the magrepha, an instrument of powerful sound, used to signal the beginning of the service.

Various types of cymbals originally used in the Temple were prohibited after its restoration.

Ritual music was at first only cantillation, i.e., recitative chanting, of the prose books of the Bible
Later the prayers and biblical poetry were chanted, presumably in a modal system similar to the ragas of Hindu music or the maqamat of Arab music, i.e., melodies with improvisations.

"After the destruction of Jerusalem under Roman rule in A.D. 70, much of the chant was preserved among congregations of Middle Eastern Jews and arguably remains intact today,

but the instrumental music was lost when the dispersed peoples, as an act of mourning, ceased playing instruments.

(Note: The Old Testament understands that instrumental music--called NOISE--was authorized only in certain dedicatory or purification rituals associated with the temple and with Jerusalem. Without both there was never any rationale for instrument to make a great crashing sound during animal sacrifices.)

"At the dedication of the later edifice, the priests blew the trumpets at the same time that the Levites sang and played upon instruments of music,

so as 'to make one sound;' but it is evident that on that great occasion of rejoicing, what was aimed at was not musical harmony, but a powerful crash of jubilant sound. We are shut up to the conclusion that

there was nothing in the tabernacle-worship, as ordered by Moses, which could be justly characterized as instrumental music." (George Girardeau, Instrumental Music, p. 29 - a Presbyterian)

A system of mnemonic hand signs for traditional chant had been developed in the Temple, and after the Dispersion this became the basis for the development of a system of notation. In the 9th century, Aaron ben Asher of Tiberias perfected the te'amim, or neginoth, a system of accent signs. His notation superseded all other systems and influenced the development of the earliest Christian neumes, which became a precise system, while the te'amim retained their vague character

"With the growth in importance of the synagogue came the rise of the chazan, or cantor.

cantor: [Lat.,=singer], a singer or chanter, especially one who performs the solo chants of a church service. The office of cantor, at first an honorary one, originated in the Jewish synagogues, in which from early times

it was the custom to appoint a lay member to represent the congregation in prayer.

The notation of the chants was forbidden.

In the 6th cent. poetic prayer forms were developed, and with them more complicated modes, or music, thus necessitating professional cantors.

In the early Christian (Catholic) church, cantors known as precentors had charge of the musical part of the service.

In modern
Roman Catholic and Anglican services cantors sing the opening words of hymns and psalms.

"Among the Sephardic Jews in Arab-dominated Spain Arab music had great influence and was introduced into the synagogue. Later the Ashkenazim (Jewish communities that had their original European base in Germany)

accepted some of the melodic forms of German folk song and Italian court song; this adaptation was more or less successfully opposed by traditionalists who reintroduced elements from the song of the Middle Eastern Jews.

The post-Renaissance cantors developed a distinct type of coloratura, which was popular in 17th-century Europe. [About the time the Pope procured the A capella from France]

In the early 19th century, instruments were introduced into some German synagogues, and other changes resulted from adaptations of Christian music

In the reform movement of the 19th century, the cantor was eliminated, the organ was employed, and Jewish hymns were written in the vernacular and often set to tunes of Protestant hymns.

Reaction against this movement brought a more moderate reform in which the Viennese cantor Salomon Sulzer (1804-90) was an outstanding figure. Sulzer aimed to restore the traditional cantillation, but without improvisation, and to make use of new music composed for the synagogue. He used the organ and included hymns in the vernacular

Sulzer's compositions, together with those of Louis Lewandowski (1821-94), another great reformer and the leading cantor of his day in Berlin, form the basis of much modern synagogue music.

The Christian chruch DISCOVERED the word PSALLO in 1878 to try to defend their sowing of discord.

In Eastern Europe, Hasidic influence was beginning in the late 18th century. Two major Eastern European composers of traditional music were the Russian cantors Eliezer Gerowitch (1844-1914) and David Nowakowsky (1849-1921). In the United States, the reform synagogues make extensive use of hymns, mixed choirs and soloists, and organ compositions

There is a cantor in modern orthodox and conservative services but the organ is used only in some conservative services. Several 20th-century musicians, notably Ernest Bloch and Gershon Ephros, have composed new works for the reformed and traditional services, respectively.

Later Developments among the Jews

"The strict order of the Church Fathers that only one instrument should be employed, i.e., the human voice,

has been observed in the Syriac, the Jacobite, the Nestorian, and the Greek churches to the present day.

The Greek Psalmos means an Ode which can be accompanied by
the instrument of the human voice
A harp or other musical instrument.

So also the synagogue did not use any instrument in the services up to 1810, in which year the organ was introduced in Seesen, Germany" (Idelsohn, quoted by Bales , p. 259).

"The modern organ in Reform Synagogues as an accessory of worship was first introduced by Israel Jacobson at Berlin in the new house of prayer which he opened for the Shabu'ot festival, June 14, 1815...

(because this one was closed because other Jews brought suit)
The members of the Reform party succeeded in building and dedicating their first temple on October 18, 1818, at Hamburg, where they set up a fine organ,

but employed a non-Jewish organist" (Isadore Singer, Jewish Encyclopedia)

"It is still banned by rigid adherents to old ways; but in ordinary conservative congregations it is unhesitatingly employed at weddings and other services on week days" (Ibid., p. 134)

"The description of the synagogue service above noted the role of the hazzan, or cantor.
It is he who
reads the service and declaims the scriptural lessons to certain set musical modes that vary with the season and occasion.

Many of these call for melodic responses on the part of the congregation.

The origins and varying developments of these chants are ancient, often obscure, and equally complicated. Whatever the basic materials, these were enlarged, varied, corrupted, and reworked over the centuries in the various environments in which the Jewish communities have lived. In modern times musicologists have begun to examine with great care the history of synagogal music, analyzing its basic structures and its relationship to the music of Christian liturgical traditions.

In the 19th century in Western Europe much of the traditional music was either discarded or re-worked under the influence of western forms and styles.

In addition the pipe-organ was introduced and was the centre of stormy controversy." Britannica Members or Click Here

See the Synagogue

See Cantor

Hazzan Cantor

A hazzan or chazzan (Hebrew חַזָּן ħazzān, Modern Hebrew khazan, Yiddish khazn) is a Jewish cantor, a musician trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the synagogue in songful prayer.

There are many rules relating to how a cantor should lead services, but the idea of a cantor as a paid professional does not exist in classical rabbinic sources. The Jewish prayer services have their own entry; the prayers in these services are collected in a prayerbook known as the siddur.


The chief singer (and sometimes instructor) of the ecclesiastical choir, called also precentor. His duties and qualifications have varied considerably according to time and place; but generally he must be ready to lead all the singing in church, to start any chant, and be watchful to prevent or correct mistakes of singers placed under him. He may be responsible for the immediate rendering of the music, showing the course of the melody by movements of the hand. The chief singer of theGregorian Schola Cantorum was called Prior scholae or Primicerius. In medieval cathedrals the cantor was master of music and chant, but also commonly one of the dignitaries of the chapter. In the fourteenth century the cantor in many churches began to delegate his instruction of the singers to a master of music. After the introduction of harmonized music some duties naturally fell to the conductor or choir-master, who might be a layman. the cantor's place in church is on the right of the choir, and immediately on his left stands his assistant, formerly called the "Succentor". In ruling the choir the cantor very commonly carried a staff as the mark of his dignity. This custom still survives in some places.


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